Tormentor of ‘The Comeback Kid’ May Become One Himself

Posted May 27, 2005 at 5:51pm

Since leaving his post as undersecretary of Commerce and director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 2004, ex-Rep. Jim Rogan (R-Calif.) has written a book, moved to Yorba Linda, Calif., and hit the Golden State mashed-potato circuit, stoking speculation that he might be positioning himself for another run for office. [IMGCAP(1)]

“I have always expected that I will get a call from Jim Rogan, asking me to do whatever I can for him,” said Matt Keelen, Rogan’s political action committee fundraiser in his 1998 and 2000 House races.

Keelen, who speaks regularly with Rogan, has not gotten the call yet, but he expects that it is just a matter of time.

“I will never forget the thing Jim told me after he lost in 2000, he said, ‘We were beaten. But we will pick ourselves up and fight again.’”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who defeated Rogan by 9 points in what is still the most expensive House race in U.S. history (the two candidates spent more than $11 million between them), is “delighted” that Rogan decided to move to

Orange County instead of returning to his former district in the inner-Los Angeles suburbs of Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena.

“I would have been happy to help him find a house if I had known he was looking,” Schiff said.

The Democratic Congressman who lost two state Assembly races against Rogan before defeating him for Congress does not discount his former rival’s chances of returning to the House from another district.

“I would not count him out anywhere,” said Schiff. “I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him by any means.”

Dan Schnur, a GOP political consultant in California, sees Rogan’s decision to leave his former district in favor of a more conservative part of the state as a logical move for the still ambitious pol who came to national prominence as a House manager in the Senate impeachment trial of then-President Bill Clinton.

“If I were to move into one of those districts, I would be a carpetbagger,” Schnur said. “If he were to move into one of those districts, he would be a conquering hero.”

Finding an open Republican seat in Southern California is easier said than done, however.

The Congressman who represents the district Rogan currently lives in is Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.). His spokesman, Kevin McKee, said, “I think Mr. Miller will be in Congress until at least 2012,” the date of the next regularly scheduled Congressional redistricting.

The two seats California politicos speculate about most often are Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s (R-Calif.) Huntington Beach-based district and Rep. Christopher Cox’s (R-Calif.) Irvine-based district, where Rogan has recently opened a law office for Venable LLP.

Rohrabacher dismisses Rogan’s chances of succeeding him in Congress, saying through his spokeswoman, Rebecca Rudman, “Rogan’s in the wrong end of the county if he is going to run for Congress.”

Rudman adds that neither her boss nor Cox, who is perennially mentioned as a potential nominee to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and other offices, has “any plans to leave their seats.”

Bob Carretta, spokesman for Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), the Congressman from a district to the East of where Rogan is currently living, said Calvert is “very happy” representing the 44th district and “plans to continue to do so” for the “foreseeable future.”

Rep. Mary Bono (R-Calif.), the Congresswoman from Palm Springs, said through spokeswoman Kimberly Pencille that she has “the highest respect” for her former colleague and that she has “full confidence that if he were to return to Congress he would do an outstanding job.”

But she is not planning on leaving either.

“She aspires to be the chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and that means she is staying for the long haul,” said Pencille.

The dearth of available House seats — a circumstance that could change whenever the Congressional boundaries are next changed — may lead Rogan to pursue statewide office.

“If I were a betting man, I would bet on a statewide bid,” said Keelen, who thinks an eventual run for Senate or lieutenant governor are most likely. “In his heart, Jim wants to serve.”

Duf Sundheim, chairman of the California Republican Party, said he knows people wanted Rogan, a former gang prosecutor and Glendale Municipal Court judge, to look at running for attorney general in 2006.

“But he wouldn’t do it because he would be running against a good friend,” said Sundheim, referring to state Sen. Chuck Poochigian (R), Rogan’s Sacramento roommate when the two served together in the state Assembly.

Sundheim thinks Rogan belongs to the Lincoln and Churchill category of leaders: a “man of principle” who does not go “whichever way the wind blows.”

“What role he plays will depend on how things develop,” said Sundheim, who thinks Rogan could be successful whether he runs for the House or statewide.

Others are more dubious about Rogan’s statewide prospects.

“He’s anti-choice. He’s anti-any kind of gun control. He favors teaching evolution in the schools. He’s about as conservative as they come,” said Parke Skelton, who managed Schiff’s 2000 bid to unseat Rogan.

“If anyone remembers anything about him statewide, it is that he was one of the most aggressive of the impeachment managers,” a stance Skelton thinks has become even more unpopular in California with the passage of time.

Democrats are not the only ones who question the ability of the self-described “pro-life, pro-gun” Republican to win statewide in culturally liberal California.

“Rogan would have trouble winning a statewide race,” said a California Republican insider who requested anonymity. “California is not as Democratic as people think it is, but it is still a moderate state. He would have an excellent chance of being a nominee for statewide office, but his chances of winning would be problematic.”

Rogan’s supporters think he can fashion a broader political appeal than his ideological positioning would suggest by emphasizing his story as the illegitimate son of a welfare mom who was in and out of jail. He says he broke the cycle of poverty by studying hard, fighting the good fight and being of good cheer.

He even exchanged friendly notes with Clinton when the man he tried to drive from office underwent open heart surgery last year.

“I feel blessed about the things that I got through; things you can’t pick up reading a text book in a study hall,” Rogan said. “I went through this for a reason.”